France, Britain ink Calais deal as Europe grapples with migrants

20th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

Britain and France announced a new "command and control centre" Thursday to tackle smuggling gangs in Calais, as Europe grapples with its biggest migration crisis since World War II.

Under a deal signed by Home Minister Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve, British teams will help bust smuggling gangs and reduce nightly attempts by desperate migrants and refugees to break into the Channel Tunnel.

Cazeneuve separately announced that Europe's interior and foreign ministers would hold a meeting in Paris in mid-October to discuss how to cope with the influx of migrants and refugees seeking a better life in the European Union.

The meeting, to be followed by another round of talks in Berlin, will pave the way for broader discussions at an EU-Africa summit in Malta in November, he said.

The diplomatic push for a coordinated response comes as a barrage of alarming statistics showed hundreds of thousands of migrants -- many fleeing war and persecution in countries like Syria -- are pouring into the European Union, with no end in sight.

Macedonia even declared a "state of emergency" on its southern border with Greece, saying it would draft in the army to help control the flood of people crossing the frontier.

- Infrared detection technology -

The new deal for Calais includes extra French policing units, additional freight searches, and tighter security at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel through more fencing, cameras, floodlighting and infrared detection technology.

A control centre will also be built there to try and bring down entry attempts, which at the start of the summer numbered up to 2,000 per night, but have since fallen due to tighter security.

Under the agreement, seen by AFP, Britain will also provide 10 million euros ($11.2 million) over two years to speed up asylum applications and boost humanitarian aid in the northern port city.

Some 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais in slum-like conditions, and at least nine have died trying to cross over into Britain, where many have family and work is thought easier to find.

On Thursday, hundreds of migrants and refugees marched from their encampment in Calais, dubbed "new jungle", to the port in protest at the deal, which was unveiled during a high-profile official visit by May and Cazeneuve.

- 'Harmonise asylum laws' -

The number of migrants in Calais are but a tiny fraction of those entering other European countries, particularly Germany, which said this week it expects a new record of 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015.

Cazeneuve left Calais for Berlin on Thursday evening to discuss the migrant issue with his German counterpart Thomas De Maiziere.

After the talks, Cazeneuve called for a "harmonisation" of asylum laws in Europe and for more cooperation with the migrants' countries of origin.

De Maiziere added that it was "unacceptable that European institutions continue to work at their current slow pace" in finding a joint solution to the problem.

He said he hoped new centres set up to determine whether arrivals are refugees fleeing war, or economic migrants simply looking for work, would be operational by the end of the year in Greece and Italy.

The 28-member bloc's border agency Frontex on Tuesday said nearly 340,000 migrants had arrived in the EU in the first seven months of the year. A record 107,500 migrants reaching the EU's borders last month alone, it said.

Debt-crippled Greece has been particularly affected, seeing nearly 21,000 landing on the overstretched Greek islands just last week, according to the United Nations.

The EU has approved 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion) of funding to help member states cope with the flood of migrants, but experts believe much more is needed.

The UN's refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres praised elements of the Calais deal that boost assistance for migrants and refugees, but said increasing "legal avenues" to enter Europe was key to any solution on human trafficking.

British politician Keith Vaz, who chairs a body overseeing May's ministry, also welcomed the Calais agreement but warned there was already evidence of greater "illegal activity" at other Channel ports in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

"Closing off one route will only mean the problem moves to another port," he said.

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© 2015 AFP

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